Read the Passage: Haggai 1
Author and Date: The Minor Prophets are the twelve last books in the Old Testament and are “minor” not because their message is any less important than the Major Prophets (i.e., Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, and Ezekiel), but because their writings are generally shorter, and they are not as prominent figures in the Old Testament narrative. As with most of the Minor Prophets, little is known about the prophet Haggai. In fact, this book is the second shortest book in the entire Old Testament (Obadiah is the shortest) as it contains only thirty-eight total verses. Note Haggai is quoted just one time in the New Testament—that is, at Heb. 12:26, which cites Hag. 2:6. The name Haggai means “feast of Yahweh” and may indicate that Haggai was born on one of the seven Jewish feast days. There are no other men in the Bible named Haggai, but the prophet Haggai is mentioned twice in the book of Ezra (5:1; 6:14). While personal information on Haggai is sparse, the chronology of his ministry is not. Indeed, Haggai carefully dates the four prophecies that constitute this book to a four-month period in 520 BC (cf. Hag. 1:1; 2:1, 10, 20).
Theme and Purpose: In 586 BC, for the third and final time, Nebuchadnezzar had deported some of the Israelites to Babylon and subsequently destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem. Next, in 539 BC, Cyrus the Persian had captured Babylon and decreed that the Jews could return and rebuild the Temple (cf. Ezra 1). In 538 BC Zerubbabel returned to Jerusalem with roughly 50,000 of the Jewish exiles (cf. Ezra 2). Temple construction was begun in 536 BC (cf. Ezra 3), but was soon halted due to persecution (cf. Ezra 4). Next, in 520 BC the Lord sent the prophets Haggai and Zechariah to confront the people regarding the rebuilding of the Temple (cf. Ezra 5). Temple construction resumed and the building was finally completed in 516 BC (cf. Ezra 6), thus ending the prophesied 70-year Babylonian captivity—that is, it lasted from 586-516 BC (cf. Jer. 25:11; 29:10). The theme of the book of Haggai, then, is encouragement in the rebuilding of the Temple. Given his question in Hag. 2:3, it may be the case that Haggai had seen and even remembered Solomon’s Temple. If this is the case, then Haggai would have been quite old when he gave the prophecies recorded in this book.
Structure and Outline: The book of Haggai contains four separate, yet related prophecies. These four messages provide a thematic outline for this text:
- Rebuke (1:1–15)
- Encouragement (2:1–9)
- Promise (2:10–19)
- Prophecy (2:20–23)
Returnees’ Complacency (1:1–6)
Haggai was a contemporary of the prophet Zechariah, with whom he ministered, and the political leader Zerubbabel, to whom this book is addressed (cf. Hag. 1:2). Interestingly, Haggai is not listed among the Jewish leaders who returned with Zerubbabel in 538 BC. Since it is unlikely that he remained in the land during the entire captivity, Haggai must have returned to Jerusalem from Persia sometime between 538–520 BC. The opening chapter of this book contains Haggai’s first prophetic speech to Zerubbabel, the governor of Jerusalem, and to Joshua, the High Priest. This address was delivered on August 29, 520 BC. In short, in Hag. 1:1–11 the prophet’s message was that the people, who had been living in the land since 538 BC, had become comfortable and complacent. While they had returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple, it nevertheless had sat in ruins for over fifteen years.
God’s Rebuke (1:7–11)
From a human standpoint, Israel’s despair over rebuilding the Temple was somewhat understandable. After all, the people returned to a city that was destroyed and overgrown, the Temple was rubble and ash, there was persecution by the resident Samaritans, and the authorities had ordered them to cease building. Yet, from a divine perspective, the people were too easily discouraged and had become lethargic. Haggai declared that the peoples’ lack of material flourishing (i.e., food, drink, clothing, wages) was God’s judgment upon them because of their own self-satisfaction. In Hag. 1:7–11 God commands the people to resume the building of the Temple “that I may take pleasure in it and be glorified” (Hag. 1:8). This is an important observation when we consider that in the New Testament the Temple of God is individual believers, in whom God takes pleasure (cf. 1 Cor. 3:9, 6:19).
Israel’s Obedience (1:12-15)
In Hag. 1:12–15 it is recorded that only twenty-three days after Haggai’s message, on September 21, 520 BC, “All the remnant of the people obeyed the voice of the Lord their God and the words of Haggai the prophet” (Hag. 1:12). The Temple was then rebuilt, being completed on February 21, 516 BC (cf. Ezra 6:15). Apparently, the call upon the people to “consider your ways” (Hag. 1:5, 7) was used by God to stir their hearts toward obedience. Indeed, the people understood that God had sent Haggai, and they feared God (cf. Hag. 1:12). Observe Haggai’s simple, yet powerful message to the remnant, “I am with you says the Lord” (Hag. 1:13). At Hag. 1:14 it is recorded that not only were the people moved to resume the rebuilding project, but also that the political and spiritual leaders assisted in the work. Indeed, God’s Spirit worked through His Word to stir up His people.
- What do you know about the book of Haggai? What verses or passages from this book come to mind?
- When we experience trials in our Christian service, how can we distinguish between a providential divine roadblock and Satanic opposition?
- When is it legitimate to view bad events in our lives, or in others’ lives, as God’s judgment?
- Are you more concerned with building your kingdom or God’s?
- How can spiritual leaders encourage people in the church toward obedience?